Mummers' guard of honour for acclaimed model maker

Published: 11 Oct 2012 13:000 comments

Members of Aughakillymaude Mummers formed a guard of honour at the Enniskillen home on Monday of well-known and highly regarded Fermanagh artist Gordon Johnson, model maker, former teacher and writer as he set off on his final journey.

The funeral cortege of Gordon Johnson on its way from the family home flanked by a Guard of Honour and lone piper from the Aughakillymaude Mummers.

It was the first ever guard of honour formed at a funeral in the county for anyone connected with mumming and it was in tribute to the talented work of Gordon who built all of the mumming models that form the mumming exhibition at the Aughakillymaude Mummers' Centre, near Derrylin.

One of the county's best-known artists, Gordon passed away peacefully at his home, Drumclay House, last Thursday morning, Thursday, October 4, aged 76 years. He had been in good form just prior to his passing and he had enjoyed attending a number of local events and had been writing up to the night before he died.

A popular figure in the community, who became one of Fermanagh's adopted sons, he was originally from York. He went to York College of Art where he met his wife Toni and they lived in Leeds before moving to the county in 1963 with their daughter Rachael. Their other three children, Matthew, Katy and Jason were born in Fermanagh.

Gordon took up a position as an art teacher at the Collegiate Grammar School, Enniskillen where he remained until taking retirement at the age of 55 to take up professional model making full time. Remaining as lasting testimonies to his talent, his models are not only housed in Fermanagh County Museum, Enniskillen and the Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, but his widely appreciated work is in museums in Ireland, the UK and the US. His interest in the mummers' tradition is reflected in the unique exhibition in Aughakillymaude Mummers' Centre, where up to 17 life size sculpture models, reflecting the main characters in mumming in the county, were built by the artist. The display is acknowledged for its stand out factor and there is no exhibition anywhere like it in Ireland or the UK. He is also remembered for the traditional wickermen that he made.

For Gordon, Fermanagh was his dream place; he was a keen fisherman and could not imagine being anywhere else. He earned the right to call himself a Fermanagh man and knew every nook and cranny of the county; he loved the people and he was very much into the environment.

An intrepid traveller, he travelled worldwide with his wife Toni and he wrote Travellers' Tales for the Impartial Reporter for many years.

Friends were extended a welcome to the family home last Sunday, when they were able to pay their respects to Gordon, a much-loved husband, father, and grandfather to Natasha, Aoife, and Sean Gordon and brother of Michael.

There was beautiful weather during the day, when people were out in the garden, the workshop and in the house - fondly remembering Gordon, who was reflected everywhere in the things that he had made and built.

At the ceremony which followed at his home on Monday, Fr. Noel McGahan, a friend of the family officiated, and Gordon's sons Matthew and Jason and daughters Rachael and Katy spoke about their father, and musician Gaby McArdle sang and played. One of John's oldest friends John Maxwell spoke about his friendship with Gordon, and a former teaching colleague, Roy Cathcart shared some stories from the Collegiate School years.

Helen Lanigan Wood spoke about his work for the museum and Bryan Gallagher also shared some wonderful stories. Gordon's wife Toni thanked everyone for coming and for helping the family to make it such a beautiful day.

The sun was shining as Rachael, Matthew, Katy and Jason, joined by Rachael's partner Frank and Katy's husband Tom carried his wicker coffin, bearing autumn leaves, through the mummers' guard of honour. A Scottish lament, The Dark Island was played by a piper.

The leader of the guard of honour was Jim Ledwith and each mummer was dressed exactly the same and brought a staff. A mummer's hat was presented to Toni as a memento to Gordon, who was bade a fond farewell as he departed for Roselawn Crematorium in Belfast, accompanied by his family.

The Johnsons are very appreciative of all the support received, and for all their good friends who have been there for both Toni and Gordon.

There were family flowers only, and donations in lieu if desired are to Horizon West Children's Hospice. The funeral arrangements were by funeral directors, W.T. Morrison, Enniskillen.

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